About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Friday, July 31, 2020

The Curious Eat Themselves by John Straley

The Curious Eat Themselves by John Straley (1993) - Cecil Younger is watching the water under Creek Street in Ketchikan, Alaska with Hannah, “the woman who used to love me”, as a dive team searches for the body of his client, Louise Root. Hannah is bitter:

“I sent her for help, Cecil.
For Christ’s sake.
I sent her to you for help.”

Cecil has no answer as the naked body is found and pulled from the water. Her throat has been slashed.

George Doggy, Special Assistant to the Commissioner, is present. Long past retirement he provides sage advice to Governors in need of sound counsel.

Root had complained of being raped at a party by men she worked with at the Otter Creek mine. Unable to get the attention of (state) troopers or local police. Hannah, her long time friend, had sent her to Younger who was ready to investigate.

Hannah has to know more about what happened despite the obvious danger, but she husbands her knowledge.

Retreating to Sitka, Cecil is retained by Global which owns the Otter Creek Mine to search for information on Steven Mathews, a very public environmentalist.

Hannah joins him and strong emotions are stirred, They go to an island a short distance from town where Cecil has a roughly made sauna of cedar. In a sensuous passage they soak up the cedar scented vapour, exchange blood to confirm he will never betray her and then swim in the ocean amongst “billows of herring that flickered with the phosphorescence”.

At home Cecil’s roommate, Toddy, is devastated for his black Lab dog, Nelson, is missing. . Toddy, who is autistic, is desperate to find Nelson. Cecil finds Nelson who is dead after being hit by a truck or car. Unable to think of the words to explain the death Cecil does not tell Toddy. Cecil feels the ache of Toddy’s pain..

Mathews had come north to Alaska from the Lower Forty-Eight. He says he talks to the whales and the trees. He talked about “taking control of ‘our’ lands” at meetings of the Tlingit. And then he wore a shirt with a killer whale sewn on it saying that because he had an “affinity” for killer whales he was a part of the killer whale clan. Its members react negatively. The Tlingit were bound to react skeptically to someone described as an “environmental guru”.

When Cecil meets Mathews he is confounded. As with most people Cecil had pre-conceptions before meeting the man. Their conversation has a philosophical nature that unsettles Cecil.

Later Cecil interviews a man in jail whose mind was altered by some minutes without oxygen. Cecil asks if anyone can testify they saw him commit murder. He answers:

“I don’t know. The fish were running. Maybe a

There is a powerful scene involving a Beaver bush plane (Cecil jumps out the door of the plane as it is taking off.)

At the heart of the book is the earth. An executive of Global tells Cecil:

“Real wealth comes from the earth. The people who want to control the earth, the ones who say they are speaking as advocates for it, really want to protect their wealth, their invesmtent, if you will, in this abstraction that the government calls money.”

Extracting, exploiting, exporting the resources of the earth is as real in Saskatchewan as Alaska. 

Global expands its verbal expectations of Cecil. He is more at the mercy of his investigation than in charge.

The distances of Alaska must seem outlandish to those who live in more occupied areas of the world. Cecil travels over 1,600 km south to north and back again and never leaves Alaska. I am familiar with such long journeys in Western Canada.

Cecil, his personal demons barely at bay, is on the edge of returning to drink throughout the book. Known to be a sad drunk he is equally sad sober.

The story is interesting. The characters are intriguing. The use of setting is once again spectacular.

The first half of the book sparkles. The second half is alright. The plot becomes implausible for a while as Cecil abruptly takes off for Prudhoe Bay on the north slope of Alaska. I found the lead up to the ending contrived. I do want to read the next in the series, more to follow Cecil’s life than for his next case.
Straley, John - (2019) - The Woman Who Married a Bear and Maureen's Reply

Friday, July 24, 2020

Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

Fair Warning by Michael Connelly - Connelly does not write many books with a message. In Fair Warning he clearly fears the risks of information gathered from personal DNA tests for genealogical or personal reasons being compromised. Evil is about.

McEvoy was the journalist in an earlier “message” book, The Scarecrow, where the issue was the collection of vast amounts of information in data farms.

Connelly continues to describe the downsizing of traditional newspapers and the efforts, somewhat desperate, of terminated journalists trying to create their own online news organizations.

McEvoy is working for Fair Warning which is a small consumer product investigation site which seeks to place stories in partnership with such organizations as the Los Angeles Times. Such partnerships allow the Times to avoid the costs of salaried sources of stories.

When a pair of LAPD detectives aggressively question him over the death of Tina Portrero he reacts by pursuing what happened to her. 

The actions of the detectives are portrayed as intrusive and insulting. Harry Bosch is also aggressive. His actions are justified as leading to killers. Depending on whether the character is the good police officer or the bad police officer will be the interpretation of comparable actions.

As McEvoy delves into Portrero’s life he finds she was concerned about cyber stalking. Once again depending on whether the internet searcher is good or bad will result in an assessment of whether the searcher is a researcher or a predator.

What reflects the genius of Connelly is that he takes her method of death, Atlanto-occipital dislocation (AOD), where the head is twisted until the spinal column is broken and turns it into the pivotal fact for the investigation. In Potrero’s death the killer has manually snapped her neck.

McEvoy, cleverly using the internet, finds there are a number of such deaths.

His further investigation takes him into the world of personal genetic testing. It was frightening to read of the lack of regulation with regard to the sale of such information by the companies to which samples are sent for analysis. We have seen the use of such data for public benefit such as the finding of the Golden State killer but what about potentially wicked uses of the data.

Former FBI agent, Rachel Walling, who is also a former McEvoy lover is re-introduced in a somewhat awkward way to the story. It was unconvincing how she was used to liaise with her former employer and how much they were willing to share with McEvoy.

As with the villains of his recent books we learn little about the character Shrike in Fair Warning. The Shrike is an almost satanic figure who causes nightmares.

The first half of the book did not grip me in the way most Connelly books have me anxiously reading to see what happens next in the story. I was absorbed in the second half as the chase accelerated. I thought for a few pages it might be like The Poet in leaving resolution with regard to the killer to another book. It had a climactic ending which would be a dandy Hollywood movie finish.
Connelly, Michael – (2000) - Void Moon; (2001) - A Darkness More than Night; (2001) - The Concrete Blonde (Third best fiction of 2001); (2002) - Blood Work (The Best);  (2002) - City of Bones; (2003) - Lost Light; (2004) - The Narrows; (2005) - The Closers (Tied for 3rd best fiction of 2005); (2005) - The Lincoln Lawyer; (2007) - Echo Park; (2007) - The Overlook; (2008) - The Brass Verdict; (2009) – The Scarecrow; (2009) – Nine Dragons; (2011) - The Reversal; (2011) - The Fifth Witness; (2012) - The Drop; (2012) - Black Echo; (2012) - Harry Bosch: The First 20 Years; (2012) - The Black Box; (2014) - The Gods of Guilt; (2014) - The Bloody Flag Move is Sleazy and Unethical; (2015) - The Burning Room; (2015) - Everybody Counts or Nobody Counts; (2016) - The Crossing; (2016) - Lawyers and Police Shifting Sides; (2017) - The Wrong Side of Goodbye and A Famous Holograph Will; (2017) - Bosch - T.V. - Season One and Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch; (2018) - Two Kinds of Truth; (2019) - Dark Sacred Night and A Protest on Connelly's Use of Vigilante Justice; (2020) - The Night Fire

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Last Resort by Marissa Stapley

(24. - 1049.) The Last Resort by Marissa Stapley - Pain. Acute and chronic. The lacerations  of failing relationships. Grace and Miles Markell are specialists in such pain, At the beautiful Harmony Resort on the Mayan Riviera of Mexico they host two week retreats for well-to-do couples on the abyss of separation. Yet they are living a failing personal relationship.

Shell and Colin are a mature Canadian couple with perfect hair. They are abruptly defined as the alcoholic and the workaholic. 

Ben and Johana have come from California. He is a busy district attorney. She is a social worker who has not left their home for weeks. 

All the couples are bitter. There is clearly an abundance of motive for violence.

Since I deal with family law every day at the office the stories and emotions are very familiar.

Johanna likes to speak of herself as one of the “helpers”. Grace says she is also a “helper” and asks Johanna if “that means you don’t get to go to therapy”.

Ben is absorbed in wanting to return to the intimacy they had early in their relationship.

Grace is deceptive in telling Johanna that she has a happy marriage. When Johanna is unresponsive to her questions Grace asks her to a group anger management meeting.

Colin is absorbed in business. He has secreted cell phones so he can keep calling even though known cell phones are confiscated on arrival to avoid distractions.

Disaster looms ever closer as the relationships keep disintegrating. The closed therapeutic world created by Miles and Grace is toxic at its core. When will words turn to physical violence?

Leaving the resort is not an option. A category 4 hurricaine is about to strike.

It is unusual crime fiction for my reading in that the plot is concentrated on relationships.

Stapeley generates increasing tension and plausibly reveals the secrets of her characters. There are layers of venom in the relationships.

The resolution was clever. Yet for much of the book the men are bad and the women are good. I have rarely found in marital strife all the blame falls on one gender. Still I expect the target audience for the book was not men. A male reader is likely to be discouraged in the reading of The Last Resort

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Emails with Michael Christie on Greenwood, Trees and Saskatchewan

My last two posts have been about Greenwood by Michael Christie. Caught up in the book I wrote to Michael and he has replied. That exchange forms this post. I appreciate his thoughtful response and look forward to his next book.
Dear Michael

I live almost 600 km north of the prairie around Estevan, Saskatchewan.

At Meskanaw where I grew up and Melfort where I have lived as an adult we are between the plains of southern Saskatchewan where there is barely a wild tree and the evergreen forests of the north half of the province.

After university my sister moved to Oxbow, not far from Estevan, where the bare land rolled and trees were rare except for the river valleys. On an early trip there in the mid-1970’s my brother-in-law, Lynn took me to see the lone full grown tree on the prairie south of town. It was a landmark.

Where I lived near Meskanaw trees were plentiful but most were considered a wasteful use of farmland. They were bulldozed down and then gathered up into vast windrows and burned.

On our home quarter, my Dad grew bountiful crops of grain. The soil is a rich dark loam.

While many neighbours took down their wild trees Dad left a line of trees intact along the west edge of our land. He loved the outdoors and trapped for over 60 years. He wanted the wild animals of the area such as coyotes and foxes to have a safe way to cross our quarter. He also thought having the line of trees was good conservation.

After my sister and I inherited the quarter over 30 years ago we left that line of trees. My sister has been gone 20 years and I now own the quarter alone. The trees are still there. They look out of place amidst the bare fields surrounding them but I have no plans of removing them.

In the backyard of our home in Melfort my wife and I have a huge poplar tree whose branches now stretch out to almost cover our whole house.

As I write this letter I am sitting outside on our upper deck beneath the branches of that tree. While its seed pods and bits of branches and leaves to be raked in fall can be irritating I love listening to the wind blowing through the leaves and the birds around me. There is a sense of peace sitting below a grand tree I feel nowhere else.

Your book reflects the ambivalence of our country towards trees. From greatly valued to disdained trees are very much at the heart of the Canadian identity. I love that a red maple leaf is the symbol by which the world knows Canada.

Thank you for writing Greenwood and making Saskatchewan part of the story. I have posted my thoughts on the book (plot and physical book) on my blog. Links are below. 

All the best.


(I will be putting up this letter as a post in a couple of days. If you are able to reply and willing to have the response posted I will include it in that post or a later post.)
Hi Bill,

Thanks for your patience with regards to my reply. A great and thoughtful message such as yours certainly doesn't deserve a quick, formulaic response. And these things take time, especially when I'm at home with young kids who are climbing all over me, as though I myself were a tree!

But it's truly wonderful to hear from someone who knows the plains of Southern Saskatchewan as well as you do. Your phrase "where the bare land  rolled" is so perfect, I wish I'd written in myself. And it's just fascinating to hear your own family's history with farming and with the few trees of the area. Your dad sounds like a sharp guy, and I'm so pleased to hear that that line of trees has survived to this day. This is very much what Greenwood is about, our ever-evolving concept of our relationship with the natural world, from subsistence, to exploitation, to appreciation, to interconnectedness. Sounds like your father had evolved well ahead of his time.

I'm writing to you from Galiano Island, from a little timber frame house that I built mostly myself (I hired a proper electrician, because I don't have a deathwish!) The house is done now, but I still take great delight in various carpentry projects that I can take on, when I'm not writing. But I share that same sense of peace and tranquility when sitting among trees that you describe, and I too feel it nowhere else. And you're right about the way that our trees and forests are bound to the Canadian identity, from the maple leaf on down. It brings me great pleasure that this book is being published internationally (Germany in a couple months), and I get to share that sense of awe with the world. It's very rewarding.

It was great fun to write about Saskatchewan in this book. I've never lived there, but in my youth, I spent a good deal of time in the Estevan area and it made a huge impression on me. I've also passed through on my numerous cross-Canada journeys (once on a freight train, but that's a story for another time...), and I was always utterly astounded by the place. It's magical. And I just hope I captured an ounce of that magic in my book.

Thanks again for reaching out, Bill, and for reading and reviewing my book. It's the best part of being a writer, hearing from such interesting and engaged folks as yourself. And please stay in touch!


Michael Christie
Galiano Island

Friday, July 10, 2020

Tree Ring Edging On A Sustainably Published Book - Greenwood

In my last post I provided my review on a wonderful book, Greenwood by Michael Christie. What makes the hardcover copy I purchased amazing are the edging on the pages and the paper used in the book and its covers.

It has been a long time since I purchased a book with marbled edging. It is a return to a time when the book itself was a work of art.

Making the edging of Greenwood unique is that the edging is in the compressed form of the rings of a tree. I am far from a great photographer. The photo at the top of this post is of that edging. It does not do justice to the edging.

The edging was perfect for a book about trees and generations of a family who were passionate about trees.

As to the book I quote the publisher’s end page:

McClelland & Stewart is proud to have published this edition of Greenwood as sustainably as possible throughout the production process.

The paper is 100% recycled made from 100% post-consumer waste, and is Ancient Forest Friendly (AFF).

The text paper and cover boards are both certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international organization devoted to responsible management of the world’s forests. The FSC label is an international certificate ensuring the integrity of the pulp and wood materials from the distributor to the printer and finally through the printed book.

The book is printed with only vegetable-based inks, which are more biodegradable than standard petroleum-based inks.

The case-making adhesives used here are water-based, renewable, and recyclable.

The plant where books were produced uses only hydro-generated power, and their web presses emith no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). As a result, no air pollutants or toxic waste exist as a by-product.

The paper we use in office for the manuscript/editing is certified by The Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI), the world’s largest single forest certification standard by area.

While I normally keep books because of their plot I will be keeping Greenwood as much for the special nature of its design and construction.
Greenwood by Michael Christie

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Greenwood by Michael Christie

(29. - 1054.) Greenwood by Michael Christie - In 2038 seekers of the experience of trees come to the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral on an island off the coast of British Columbia. A “Great Withering” has killed most of the world’s trees. Great dust storms have caused economic havoc and rib retch, a virulent new strain of tuberculosis, which is killing untold numbers of children. The seekers, known as “Pilgrims”, are wealthy world citizens who have isolated themselves from the wretched masses of poor people. Canada known as water rich and tree rich is a refuge for the rich.

The signature tree on the island is a Douglas Fir. It is 1200 years old and rises 230 feet high into the sky to touch the clouds.

Forest Guide, Jake Greenwood, has a Ph.D in dendrology (botany specializing in trees) from the University of Utrecht . She was a child prodigy in her knowledge of trees. While taking Pilgrims around the island she notices a pair of ancient firs have some patches of browned needles and areas of spongy bark. Has the Withering come to the island? She takes specimens to study.

Abruptly we are taken back to 2008 to the life of Jake’s father, Liam Greenwood, (a man she never knew) who after a bizarre upbringing (his mother gave him marijuana at 13)  has established a business renovating homes with reclaimed wood (old barns are a source).

His special talent involves “book matched” boards:

…. Taking two successive slabs sawn from the same log, and then attaching the nearly identical pieces side by side, in mirror image, creating the almost uncanny effect of the spread pages of an open book ….. After he’s joined the live-edged planks with butterfly keys and applied numerous applications of tung oil and two coats of polyurethane, the wood’s unique figuring, burl, and honey-tinged grain pulse with life, like a solar system that has been frozen for centuries within the wood and is only now being revealed.

He is an artist in wood.

The book moves back further to 1974 when Jake’s mother, Willow Greenwood, is becoming an eco warrior or terrorist depending on your perspective.

The book goes even further back to 1934 when Jake’s grandfather, Harris Greenwood, a lumber baron, is surviving the Great Depression and her great-uncle, Everett Greenwood, is living a simple existence in the woods of New Brunswick.

Despite great wealth Harris is a lonely man. He creates a unique position. Harris. Blind, he seeks out:

… a visual assistant … Someone to illuminate his dealings, energize his spirit, brighten his days with well-chosen words of observation, and brighten his nights with readings of the finest literature. A describer. At this juncture of his long, solitary life, Harris Greenwood is weary of darkness.

The concept of such a position captivated me. Greenwood hires Liam Feeney, an Irish logger/poet.

Feeney conjures up magnficient descriptions. As they leave British Columbia on a ship for Japan Feeney describes a forest:

“Fog seeps between the brindle stalks,” Feeney begins, “and the sun, hooded with sea-borne mist, burns among the striving arms of branches …..”

Greenwood pays his describer very well.

At the same time Everett is tapping maple trees to make enough syrup to sustain his life.

The participants in this part of the story illustrate how Christie fully develops his characters. Even characters who may be in the book for but a few pages are well described. Examples include the industralist, R.J. Holt, who dominates the economy of the province of New Brunswick  and his young mistress placed in seclusion to deliver his child and his huge brutish enforcer / aide, Harvey Lomax, who has 7 children.

Everett finds the baby hanging on one of his trees and flees New Brunswick pursued by the enforcer.

And the book then goes yet further back to 1908 when two boys of about 9 are found after a train crash in Eastern Ontario. Unable to identify them, the villagers call them Harris and Everett. With no one willing to parent they exist on their own in a shack on a woodlot with doubtful provisions from the widowed Mrs. Craig. 

The orphans are dubbed Greenwood. Thus the family name was chosen from the trees with which generations of Greenwoods over the next century would be obssesed. All of them have a grand passion for trees yet each is so different in their passion.

As the book gradually works back through the 20th Century and into the 21st Century there is an epic journey across Canada. The unease and tension building in that trip provoked an anxiety for the characters I have seldom experienced in my reading life.

Everett spends time in 1934 upon a farm on the edge of Estevan here in Saskatchewan. It is in the prairie part of the province most sorely afflicted by the drought of the 1930’s. While the Dirty Thirties were a grim time for farming everywhere in Saskatchewan, on the prairie as a region without wild trees, except in scattered valleys, it was hard for even the planted trees to survive.

At the end we are back in 2038 with Jake facing a difficult personal future and the future of the earth at peril. Could it really be that all the trees of the planet will be lost? I hoped the ending would see a good future for her and earth. I like to hope for fictional characters. 

It is hard to describe the rich lush writing that winds through decades of fascinating characters. I found I needed to read it over a period of a couple of weeks of modest pages per day so I could absorb each revelation and shift in the plot. The Greenwood lives are difficult. They are a self-destructive clan. While all lives have challenges the Greenwood’s have less joy than most and a scarcity of loving relationships.

Christie describes the aching consequences of an injured heart:

“.... So know this, your father loved you with everything he had. He just didn’t have much left.”

I rarely venture into the future, especially the future of great disasters. I acquired Greenwood as it was on the shortlist for the 2020 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. I am even more unlikely to enjoy such fiction but Greenwood is so unsettling, compelling, even enthralling. And, as we live amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, it feels uncomfortably real. Upon reading the book I understand why it won the Arthur Ellis Award. Greenwood is far from conventional crime fiction but it is great literature.